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Review: Storage Offerings Perfectly Suited For SMBs

The data stored by small businesses is just as critical to them as it is to the enterprise. Even consumers in today's digital world need storage, and not just the storage provided by local hard drives. The right kind of storage offers redundancy in case of drive failure, and hot-swap capability, which allows failed drives to be replaced with no downtime. The right kind of storage also offers network access so stored files can be shared by multiple users. Enterprise-level storage devices provide

Marc Spiwak

November 8, 2006

8 Min Read

The data stored by small businesses is just as critical to them as it is to the enterprise. Even consumers in today's digital world need storage, and not just the storage provided by local hard drives. The right kind of storage offers redundancy in case of drive failure, and hot-swap capability, which allows failed drives to be replaced with no downtime. The right kind of storage also offers network access so stored files can be shared by multiple users. Enterprise-level storage devices provide all these features but are overkill for small business. The CRN Test Center looked at two very similar storage devices geared toward the SMB sectorone from Intel and another from MicroNet, each about the size of a toaster.

Intel SS4000-E
The Intel Storage System SS4000-E is a new storage device that's ideal for small businesses. Based on network attached storage (NAS) technology, the SS4000-E is both easy to use and affordable and can safely store up to 2 Tbytes of data. Multiple users can access the unit simultaneously, and files can be shared among Windows, Linux and Macintosh users and can be managed by user names or groups.

Small in size, the SS4000-E also is suitable for consumer use. Solution providers looking to expand into home integration should consider the SS4000-E as a central storage unit.

One thing solution providers will like about the SS4000-E is that it can be configured with different capacities depending on the application and eventually can be upgraded to its maximum capacity of 2 Tbytes down the road. The unit supports up to four 3.5 Serial ATA-I hard disks ranging from 80 Gbytes to 500 Gbytes. The RAID-configurable drives are hot swappable to avoid interruption of service when faulty disks must be replaced.

The SS4000-E is available as a barebones unit with no hard drives for $550. That's a beautiful thing for system builders that want to configure it themselves. It's also available pre-configured with four 500-Gbyte hard drives for $2,000. Unfortunately, the unit does not support the latest 750-Gbyte drives. More specifically, the SS4000-E has a 2-Tbyte limit to the size of the storage volume that can be created. It will support 750-Gbyte drives as long as the storage volume being created does not exceed the 2-Tbyte limit. Note that the 2-Tbyte capacity is met only by configuring the unit without RAID.

The SS4000-E is based on the Intel XScale 80219 processor and runs an embedded operating system based on the Linux 2.6 kernel. The four-bay unit is small enough to fit on a bookshelf. It features two Gigabit Ethernet ports for network connectivity, and two USB ports allow the connection of external hard disks, flash disks and so forth. A client backup and recovery application included with the unit provides system backup, remote boot and recovery for clients running Windows 2000, Windows XP and Windows 2003.

The SS4000-E is easy to set up and use. The four-bay unit measures roughly 6.25 inches wide by 8.5 inches high by 9.5 inches deep. Indicators on the front panel include an activity light for each hard drive, link and activity lights for each of the two NICs and for drive status and system status. The individual drives do not lock into place, but there is a Kensington lock slot on the back of the SS4000-E to prevent theft of the unit.

The SS4000-E supports RAID Levels 0, 1, 5 and 10. A RAID 0 array can be set up with two or more striped disks, where data is spread out across all disks for enhanced performance. A RAID 1 array can be set up with two mirrored disks for data redundancy, so essentially, only half the total disk space will be usable. A RAID 10 array using four disks combines mirroring with striping; this offers redundancy along with enhanced performance, but again only half the total disk space. A RAID 5 array combines striping with parity to offer a good compromise of performance, redundancy and storage space. RAID 5 arrays can be set up with three or four drives or with three drives and the fourth drive used as a hot spare.

The SS4000-E is managed from a Web interface used to set up users and access rights. The Web-based management utility also provides information on disk usage, service status, RAID, system log and current connections. The storage system console is installed from a CD onto the computers that will access the SS4000-E. The console automatically scans the network for any attached storage when it is started. The SS4000-E can be set up as a Dynamic Host Configuration Protocol (DHCP) server and also can act as a DHCP client for easy network configuration. A built-in FTP server allows for high-speed file transfers.

Intel's channel program includes two levels: Premier and Associate. The only entry requirements are that VARs sign up to be registered resellers and buy through authorized distributors. There are no costs associated with joining the program.

Benefits offered include beta testing, demo units, rebates, spiffs, awards and co-marketing opportunities. An exclusive reseller Web site offers access to product and platform road maps and technical information, support, training opportunities, sales and marketing tools and promotions. Members receive e-mail notifications with links to new drivers, BIOS, utilities and firmware.

MicroNet PlatinumNAS 3.0
MicroNet Technology's PlatinumNAS 3.0 four-bay NAS unit is a little smaller than the Intel unit yet offers higher capacity. That's because the PlatinumNAS 3.0 is compatible with the latest 750-Gbyte SATA drives and therefore can be configured as a 3-Tbyte NAS serverwithout RAID, of course.

The PlatinumNAS 3.0 combines SATA hard-drive technology with a high-availability plug-and-play architecture for ease of use and economical storage for data-intensive applications. The appliance is an ideal solution for storing, sharing and managing digital data for small and midsize businesses and even home users.

The PlatinumNAS 3.0 is powered by an Intel XScale 64-bit network storage processor and features four discrete SATA 2+NCQ disk channels and 256 Mbytes of write-back/write-through error correcting cache memory. It can handle multiple simultaneous network services including SMB/CIFS, FTP, Webdisk and AppleShare, and it's compatible with Windows, Unix and Apple platforms, which enables users of different operating systems to share files and provides native support for Active Directory.

Like the Intel unit, the PlatinumNAS 3.0 features dual-channel Gigabit Ethernet connectivity, allowing multiple subnetworks and workgroups to access the appliance without slowing throughput. Dual-subnet capability provides simultaneous support for two separate networks so that different departments within a company can access the storage without being able to see each other on the network.

Also like the Intel unit, the hard drives in the PlatinumNAS 3.0 are hot-swappable, which prevents down time and also allows for RAID configurations that include a hot spare so that if one of the disks should fail, it can be replaced and the storage pool rebuilt with no loss of data or interruption of service. The PlatinumNAS 3.0 supports RAID levels 0, 1 and 5. Because RAID configurations diminish the total amount of storage, the PlatinumNAS 3.0 also can be configured in JBOD fashion where the entire 3 Tbytes of capacity is available for storage use. Of course, that's with no redundancy, which risks the loss of data in the event of drive failure.

The PlatinumNAS 3.0 is available in capacities of 1 Gbyte, 1.6 Gbytes, 2 Gbytes and 3 Gbytes. Loaded with four 750-Gbyte hard drives, it has an MSRP of $3,700. The 1-Gbyte unit costs $1,999, and prices for the 1.6-Gbyte and 2-Gbyte models fall between $1,999 and $3,700. Unlike the Intel SS4000-E, the PlatinumNAS 3.0 is not available as a barebones unit.

The PlatinumNAS 3.0 is tiny for its capacity, measuring roughly 6.5 inches wide by 7.5 inches high by 9 inches deep. Like the Intel unit, it features link and activity lights for the two NICs, along with power and activity lights for each hard drive. The hard drives can be locked in place, which is good to prevent inadvertent removal, but because thieves could always steal the entire unit, there's also a Kensington lock slot on the back.

Configuration, installation and maintenance are performed using a Web-based interface which can be accessed via VPN from anywhere in the world. Setup is easy and can be done in either DHCP or static IP environments. First, the user IDs are added along with appropriate passwords, then folders are created with access rights given according to user permissions.

MicroNet's channel program consists of three levels: distribution, direct and channel partners. Distribution VARs have no limitations, while direct VARs must have a revenue goal of at least $1 million, and channel partners must have greater than $1 million in revenue. Distribution VARs receive basic services, access to the complete product line and distribution access. Direct VARs have direct purchasing access, full pre- and post-sales support, advertising and marketing support and blind drop-ship of products. Channel partners can take advantage of co-op advertising, end-user rebates, lead generation and advertising and site linking. Margins average about 15 percent. Demo units are offered, and Web leads are driven toward valued partners. Rebates, spiffs and MDFs are available.

In summation, the Intel NAS device can be purchased as a barebones unit, while the MicroNet cannot. The Intel unit also costs less per Tbyte of storage, but the MicroNet unit has maximum capacity that is one whole Tbyte greater than the Intel unit. If price and flexibility are the main concern, the Intel SS4000-E is the better choice. If maximum storage capacity in the least amount of physical space is the prime deciding factor, the MicroNet PlatinumNAS 3.0 can be configured to hold 33 percent more data than the Intel unit.

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